Moor monuments

Taken from North York Moors National Park Authority Monument Management Scheme: an overview of the second MMS programme 2012-2015 by Mags Waughman and Jo Collins

The Monument Management Scheme (MMS) has been progressing in the North York Moors since 2009 – it’s a partnership scheme between the NPA and English Heritage (now Historic England). The essential aims of the MMS are to improve scheduled monument condition and remove scheduled monuments from the Heritage At Risk (HAR) register, using the most practical means available. The current register includes 54 of the National Park’s 841 Scheduled Monuments – a big reduction from the 198 which were ‘At Risk’ when the MMS began in 2009.

Scheduling is the legal system for protecting nationally important monuments and archaeological remains in England. Its aim is to preserve the best examples of each type of monument for the benefit of current and future generations. Not all scheduled monuments are ancient – monuments and archaeological remains of all dates can be given the protection of scheduling. Some scheduled monuments contain standing buildings or ruins – others have no visible remains above ground.

The second programme (MMS2) ran from 2012 to May this year. The MMS2 continued the three-stage process developed and refined through the original pilot programme:

  • Up to date site inspections (by Historic Environment Volunteers);
  • Production of management plans, negotiation with land managers to secure a legal agreement and necessary consents as well as procuring contractors to carry out practical works (by NPA staff); and
  • Implementation of practical vegetation management and erosion repairs (by accredited consultants and contractors, and sometimes Historic Environment Volunteers).

In addition where possible the MMS has worked through Natural England and existing national agri-environment schemes to make the most of available funding; worked with the NPA’s Ranger Service to tackle the worst erosion problems caused by access across monuments (“killing two birds with one stone”), and elsewhere worked directly with land owners and managers to come to satisfactory and cost-effective compromises.

Green Dike - early mediaeval estate boundary associated with Whitby Abbey - public bridleway runs along length of monument. Legal and illegal use causing considerable erosion and vehicle rutting. Copyright NYMNPAGreen Dike - repairs and heather brash spread along the monument - new bridleway route cut to the left. Work in progress because boggy areas along the new route mean people still using the old route. Copyright NYMNPA.

Danby Rigg Cairnfields - extensive prehistoric landscapes. Volunteers spreading crushed sandstone and heather brash to repair and protect archaeological features along the Danby Rigg bridleway. Copyright NYMNPA

Vegetation management has been one of the most successful MMS methods, accounting for large numbers of monuments being removed from the HAR Register. Growing vegetation such as bracken, gorse and woody scrub breaks up structural remains and hides earthworks that become lost and unappreciated. The need for follow-on vegetation management work, particularly for bracken control, has been very apparent; some monuments have still had some bracken growth after 5 years of treatment and a follow-on programme has been as important as establishing new projects in order to make a real impact on the area’s monuments.

Eden House cairnfield and deer park boundary before bracken spraying - copyright Archaeo-environment Ltd

Eden House cairnfield and deer park boundary after 3 years of bracken spraying - copyright Archaeo-environment LtdThere were also a number of thematic projects advanced during MMS2 to address shared issues across a number of different monuments such as monuments affected by walkers’ cairns where monuments needed to be assessed and if necessary repaired as well as the modern cairns removed or re-located – interpretation will be considered to explain the monuments to visitors and hopefully discourage new cairn building at the monuments’ expense. There was also a large scale study of coastal alum workings which are relentlessly and unavoidably being destroyed by coastal erosion – this will hopefully be the subject of a future post.

Round barrow on line of the Cleveland Way - with very large modern walkers' cairn on top - copyright NYMNPA

Although addressing scheduled sites under arable cultivation was excluded from the scope of MMS2, a preliminary assessment was made. This identified up to 32 monuments where site visits were required to verify condition and management potential, as well as 4 principal areas where cultivation issues are significant. This information was supplied to English Heritage/Historic England to inform planning of their own COSMIC 3.1 project (Conservation of Scheduled Monuments in Cultivation assessment). A number of the monuments were also suggested as suitable candidates for geophysics and/or trial excavation and these may be addressed under the final MMS programme, if and when opportunities arise.

The original target for MMS2 was for 75 ‘At Risk’ Scheduled Monuments to be removed from the Heritage at Risk (HAR) Register and for 60 ‘Vulnerable’ Scheduled Monuments (vulnerable to becoming ‘At Risk’) to have their condition improved. Because of subsequently reduced resources it was decided that the priority should be to address the monuments on the HAR register.

Between April 2012 and May 2015 –

  • 77 Scheduled Monuments were recommended for removal from the HAR register and a further 4 were removed from the NYMNPA’s records of ‘At Risk’ monuments (these monuments never got onto the At Risk Register because as soon as their poor condition was discovered the issues were addressed).
  • 23 Scheduled Monuments were recommended for a reduction in risk status from ‘Vulnerable’ to Low Risk and 7 further ‘Vulnerable’ monuments had improvement works carried out, although other factors (e.g. location at the edge of a major road) did not permit their risk status to be reduced.

Over the last 5 years the North York Moors MMS has made a big contribution to improving the condition and management of the 841 Scheduled Monuments within the National Park. The beneficiaries include not only the National Park Authority and English Heritage/Historic England, but also land managers who have benefitted from the opportunity to access practical assistance with monument management; local consultants and contractors whose management skills have developed; and our Historic Environment Volunteers who’ve gained knowledge of site survey and management requirements, and gained a growing appreciation of the issues facing monuments within the National Park. At the National Park Authority we pride ourselves on having a record of working closely with land owners and farmers providing land management advice and assistance and we think that it is this, along with our exemplar volunteer service, which has underpinned the successes of MMS2.

Round barrow on Potato Nab before bracken spraying and removal of scub - copyright NYMNPA

Potato Nab after scrub removal and 2 years of bracken spraying carried out by land owner - copyright R WatsonThe MMS2 programme was a fully formed scheme following on from the initial pilot programme. In order to address some of the outstanding Heritage at Risk issues within the National Park and to secure the legacy of the first two programmes, a third stage MMS programme commenced in June 2015 and will run until 2018. This final MMS programme will continue and enhance some of the MMS2 projects in order to consolidate the previous work, but will also move into a preventative phase to establish a sustainable future through fostering greater ownership of the historic monuments of the North York Moors by landowners and farmers, volunteers and local communities.

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